How the Internet Fuels Prescription Drug Abuse

In the past decade, anyone with an e-mail account has most likely received spam e-mail that advertises the sale of prescription drugs.  Millions of these e-mails are sent out each year from pharmacies that are typically located outside of the United States.  These rogue pharmacies are not under the jurisdiction of U.S. laws and freely dispense potentially dangerous drugs like Percocet and Oxycontin that normally require a doctor’s prescription.

A recently completed 7-year study conducted by the University of Southern California and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has revealed a correlation between Internet access and prescription drug abuse.  States with the highest growth in high speed internet access also saw the greatest increase in treatment admissions for prescription drug abuse.

According to Dana Goldman, a public health expert at the University of Southern California, the findings suggest that widespread use of the Internet may partially explain the spike in prescription drug abuse in the past decade.  Due in part to the existence of offshore online pharmacies that are outside the law, prescription drugs are replacing illegal substances as targets of abuse on college campuses and in other areas of American society.  Across the nation, the prescription drugs that are most frequently obtained online without a prescription are painkillers, tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives.

Between the years 2000 and 2007, the study found that each 10% rise in the availability high-speed Internet access could be matched to a 1% increase in prescription drug treatment admissions.  During the same period, treatment admissions for illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin and for alcohol either fell or rose only minimally.  Anupam B. Jena of the MGH Department of Medicine, author of the report that described the study, notes that this suggests that the increase in prescription drug abuse cannot be tied to an overall increase in drug use.

The report calls on further studies to determine the impact of foreign Internet pharmacies that violate U.S. laws by selling prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription.  The U.S. Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2009 outlaws the sale of prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription.  The federal government has issued formal warnings to more than 100 online pharmacies that are illegally selling prescription drugs, but the effectiveness of these warnings is unknown.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises consumers to be wary of buying any drugs from online pharmacies that don’t have an established reputation.  Rogue pharmacies with a website that looks legitimate may actually be selling unapproved drugs or drugs with the wrong set of active ingredients.  In one case that has been documented by the FDA, consumers who ordered Ambien, Xanax and Ativan online were instead sent foreign versions of Haldol, an anti-psychotic drug with such powerful side effects that many of the drug recipients required emergency room treatment.

Those who buy addictive prescription drugs online without a prescription are putting themselves at risk of developing drug dependency as well as being harmed by improper drug ingredients.  If you or a loved one has become dependent on prescription drugs, avoid the temptation to obtain drugs online without a prescription.  Instead, break the cycle of dependency by seeing prescription drug treatment